Has Tokyo’s art-fair scene got the goods?

September 3rd, 2009 by Jason Jenkins

A performance artist at 101TOKYO this past April

A performance artist uses his back as a canvas at 101TOKYO this past April

The current recession hasn’t made life easy for Tokyo’s art galleries. Spending habits of collectors are now even more difficult to predict, but the fertile art scene here continues its growth spurt, and with it comes an increasing number of art fairs, including a new photography-only fair opening this weekend. Whether Tokyo can support so many fairs is an open (and frequently asked) question, but quality work will always draw buyers. Tokyo can and should be the hub for the Asian market, and as the region bounces back economically, our fair city has been providing plenty of opportunities to peruse and purchase art.

In the spring, there was Japan’s largest and most influential fair is Art Fair Tokyo (AFT), which is a mixed bag of contemporary art, Western art, antiques and other traditional wares. Outside this center of gravity, many other events have taken root, bringing together gallerists, creators and collectors of nearly every predilection and income bracket.

Geisai, the brainchild of Takashi Murakami, is “part exhibition, flea market and spectacle” and appropriately showcases young individual artists. The 2-year-old 101TOKYO focuses on new contemporary art (i.e. not shown in other fairs) and uses a selection committee to choose participating galleries. A new art book fair, Zines Mate (a play on the name of a particular Japanese clothing company) debuted this summer, and will remain as a shop in Shibuya Jingmae until December.

The third annual Tokyo Contemporary Art Fair (TCAF) will take place in November, and the new Tokyo Photo Fair debuts this coming weekend (Sept 4-6). As the name implies, Tokyo Photo is all about the still image. There will be some interesting Japanese up-and-comers for sale (Nobuhiro Fukui, Yonehara Yasumasa, Hiromix) as well as works by legends like Helmut Newton, William Eggleston and Annie Leibovitz. I hope someone buys Annie’s work. It sounds like she may need the money.

One of the most interesting fairs in Japan was Art@Agnes, which was held  for the last time this past January at the Agnes Hotel in Kagurazaka. Around 30 contemporary galleries would take over one hotel room each, covering the walls and furniture as they saw fit. Alas, Art@Agnes has closed its doors, but if rumors prove true, the January slot on the art calendar will not remain vacant for long. Stay tuned.

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